The Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project records the experiences of many of the unique people who have made, and continue to make, our neighborhood the wonderful place it is. In addition to preserving the character of Telegraph Hill, the THD Oral History Project seeks to preserve the characters of Telegraph Hill.
The THD Oral History Project currently consists of two collections. The first collection features nearly two dozen interviews with men and women with strong connections to North Beach and adjoining neighborhoods, including Jackson Square, Russian Hill and the eastern side of Telegraph Hill. Many of these narrators have Italian roots and share their often-fond memories of daily life in northeastern San Francisco during the early and middle decades of the 20th century, including stories about their school days, family life, childhood summers, raising children and neighborhood festivals.
The narrators also provide details about their professional lives in a wide range of fields, highlighting the diversity and vibrancy that has long characterized North Beach. This collection includes interviews with a restauranteur, an architect, the owner of a leather shop, the owner of a bead shop, a fishmonger, a cabinet maker, a bookstore owner, a jazz musician, an author, a sculptor, a grocery store owner and more. These interviews took place in the 1993-2008 period and were conducted by a variety of THD members, including Audrey Tomaselli, Valerie Hearn, Rozell Overmire and Judith Robinson.
The second collection features interviews with 15 people who, in one way or another, helped shape North Beach as the center of Italian culture and tradition in San Francisco. These interviews were recorded in 1996 by long-time THD member and activist Judith Robinson, and the series was sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library.
Many of these narrators were elderly when Robinson interviewed them, and all had either lived or worked in or near North Beach for much of their lives. Some were born in Italy and emigrated to San Francisco seeking economic opportunity or the chance to marry a fellow Italian already living in the city. The stories they tell bring to life the sights, sounds and smells of Italian North Beach life in the early and middle decades of the past century – from neighborhood kids picnicking among the goats on a still-undeveloped Telegraph Hill and families in their Sunday best strolling through the Fort Mason tunnel to circuses that set up in Washington Square Park and the aroma of fermenting homemade wine that filled the air each fall after the grape harvest. The picture was not always rosy: several narrators mention, for example, the racist taunts that were commonly hurled when Chinese-Americans ventured into North Beach.
What exactly is Oral History?
Oral history is, according to the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, “a method of collecting historical information through tape-recorded interviews between a narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-informed interviewer, with the goal of preserving substantive additions to the historical record. Because it is primary material, oral history is not intended to present the final, verified or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved and irreplaceable.”
Support Our Effort
If you would like to support the THD Oral History Project, we would love your help! We are always looking for new volunteer transcribers and interviewers. If you’re interested in joining the oral history team, or you’d like information about our future projects, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to support these efforts, click on the "Oral History" button on the Northest San Francisco Conservancy website: https://nesfc.org/donate